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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2019 - 2020 Regular Session


Posted: August 4, 2020 04:13 PM
From: Senator Anthony H. Williams
To: All Senate members
Subject: Expanding the Offense of Terroristic Threat to Include Symbols of Hate
In the near future, I will be introducing legislation which expands the definition of terroristic threats to include brandishing symbols of hate.
Our country is once again at a moral crossroads. Amidst the deadliest pandemic to grip our nation in over 100 years, we find ourselves at odds with our neighbors over America’s original sin of systemic racism. In communities throughout the Commonwealth, from Philadelphia to Erie, Washington to Scranton, protestors have taken to the streets to demand equal treatment of Black and brown people, who suffer disproportionately from police brutality. Unfortunately, some of these peaceful protests have been met with hate, with racist invective and display of symbols meant to terrorize people of color into accepting a designation as “less than.”
My legislation would amend Title 18 to include brandishing flags, banners, signs, or articles of clothing with symbols designated by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “symbols of hate” as a terroristic threat. The ADL’s database includes nearly 250 hand gestures, icons, and phrases that denote hatred toward a group of individuals, ranging from swastikas to the confederate battle flag. To be clear, these symbols are not simply reflections of one’s “heritage” but rather representations of ideologies that are intended to strike terror into the heart of their intended targets, such as a swastika painted on a Jewish-owned business or a noose left hanging on the front porch of a Black family. The only reason to brandish these symbols in public is to incite fear and violence while expressing an affinity for the ideology they represent.
While our nation’s dedication to free speech, including hate speech, remains absolute, we do not tolerate speech which incites violence or is threatening. Symbols carry significant weight in shaping the norms and values of society, they reflect who we are as a people. It’s well beyond time that we relinquish these symbols of hate to the ash heap of history. Already, the United States military has banned the confederate flag from public spaces on their installations; our civilian citizens should enjoy the same freedom from hate.
Please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation. Questions or comments may be directed to my legislative office at 717-787-5970. Thank you.